Productive gardening – like farming – is a tough business; it’s no place for the whimsical idealism that set me upon this journey in my early twenties. This is especially true in our Mediterranean climate where more than one hundred varieties of vegetables and herbs are likely to be grown across summer and winter growing seasons. So
Tip #21: Learn which vegetables grow in which season.
Growing vegetables out of season simply wastes space and the potential of those seedlings. Some things – like cabbages – enjoy a touch of frost, while frost kills many other plants, or prevents successful flowering. The solanums (tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants and so forth) grow best in summer, while the brassicas (cabbages, kale, cauliflower etc.) like colder weather. Peas like cool conditions, beans like warm weather, so they can grow up the same mesh fence but during opposite seasons.
Simply stated: “Out-of-season, out of the garden!”
Also, plant one full season ahead: seeds sown in Spring will grow throughout summer to be harvested in autumn.
Tip #22: Learn to space vegetables according to their needs.
Where space is limited – and it always is in a backyard garden – throw away weak or sickly seedlings and plant the strongest ones.
Tip #23: Choose your crops.
Don’t grow what you won’t eat. In our house, cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts aren’t planted because we won’t eat them. If I had my way, that would also be true of beetroot, but the cook loves the stinking stuff. Some things just don’t return value: we find melons and sweet corn to be too water- and space-intensive.
Eat the freshest food available. But
Tip #24: Learn to store produce
Learn to pickle, dry, freeze and ferment. Build a cellar under the floor. Buy freezers for the basement or back shed.
Tip #25: Get some help!
In an economically-constrained kitchen garden, a small flock of chickens is all that’s needed. If I’ve learnt anything over the past few decades, its the value the ‘chooks’ bring to the gardener, working year-round without ever taking a day off. I’ve written about that here.
On a more human scale, gardeners need cooks as much as cooks need gardeners; the combination together makes for an unbeatable partnership.
End Note: And that’s it.
So is ‘self-sufficiency’ just a dream?
Probably, though I’m still aiming at that far point as a useful goal and goad to sustain my efforts to squeeze the maximum productivity and produce out of the confined space that is a kitchen garden. I’ve always felt amply repaid by the gains in friendships, health and satisfaction that the simple yet complex business of growing crops gives us.